Loading zone shortage undermines recovery

Transport operators and their peak representative groups for years have been confronted with the important issue of maintaining reliable and safe access for drivers to deliver and collect goods from customers, as a key element in keeping supply chains moving, shelves stocked and customers satisfied.

Without reliable access, supply chains don’t work and become dysfunctional, with the flow on effects being lost business and revenue for transport operators and their customers, and frustration from consumers who don’t have reliable access to goods they regularly consume.

Left unchecked, local, state and national economies bear the brunt of supply chain disruptions, as we learned all too well during the peak of Covid when supermarkets couldn’t keep pace with consumer demand for key goods. Easing access restrictions on the transport network was one of the reasons supply chains recovered relatively quickly, with operators able to deliver goods 24/7 so that shelves could be restocked.

In Melbourne, we are seeing regrettable signs of supply chains potentially being disrupted again, but this time not in response to a pandemic, but due to a kneejerk ‘solution’ to attract people back into the city.

Anticipating more people would ride their bicycles into the city for work to avoid public transport and potential exposure to Covid, the City of Melbourne and the Victorian Government decided to build more dedicated bike lanes to create a safer environment for cycling.

Nearly 40km of kerbside protected bike lines were built, but regrettably the transport industry is suffering through a reduction in transport infrastructure.

Without any consultation with industry, the bike lanes were built in Swanston Street, William Street, Bourke Street, Exhibition Street, Flinders Street, La Trobe Street and elsewhere in the city, with lanes and protection medians encroaching on loading zones and other parking and delivery infrastructure.

While we appreciate the need to protect cyclists, a consequence of these decisions has been a blowout in delivery times, which increases the number of trucks and delivery vehicles in the city.

Loading zones in the Melbourne CBD have significantly declined over the past two years, prompting complaints from members that deliver goods to retailers and fresh food, groceries and beverages to city bars and cafes. The fewer CBD loading zones are also creating traffic congestion and threatening Melbourne’s economic recovery from forced business closures.

After 12 months of lost business and revenue, CBD businesses are finally getting back on their feet and servicing a steadily growing market of consumers as more people return to the city for work, yet we are hearing about deliveries having to be rescheduled or taking longer because there are fewer loading zones.

This is creating a dangerous environment where drivers are having to wait to make deliveries or drive around the city until a loading zone becomes available, which increases traffic congestion and associated delays for everyone.

Dozens of transport companies make thousands of trips in and out of the CBD for deliveries every day with any delay inconveniencing customers and consumers and contributing to lost productivity. We have one member that currently has around 200 drivers a day entering the CBD to make deliveries, saying that the time for them to do this has doubled in the last five years.

The issue is being compounded every year with loading zones being reduced, forcing drivers to wait around longer to get a loading zone or park further away, which means that they are having to cart freight on trolleys a further distance, risking an incident or injury to a pedestrian or driver.

The other unintended consequence is a reduction in our living standards, which go hand in glove with reliable supply chains. When we don’t have access to the goods and services we have come to expect, our quality of life suffers. And whilst short disruptions are manageable, government policy that erodes living standards is something we must avoid.

Local governments are responsible for maintaining heavy vehicle access to their localities and designating and enforcing loading zones. If they really want to support business recovery it is essential that more zones – not less – be set aside for transport operators to service their customers safely, quickly and efficiently.

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